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By Kristen Johnson, Staff Writer - More than $75.5 million in proposed capital expenditures over the next five fiscal years could force Davidson County to raise property taxes by as much as five cents.

County budget officer Zeb Hanner presented members of the Davidson County Board of Commissioners with a spreadsheet detailing previous capital commitments during Friday’s portion of the board’s retreat.

If all 54 proposed expenditures are made in the next five fiscal years, the commissioners would be forced into a 3-cent property tax increase for the 2003-04 fiscal year.

A proposed property revaluation in 2005-06 could decrease property taxes by 1-cent, but another 3-cent increase in the tax rate could come during the 2007-08 fiscal year.

The county’s tax rate, currently 53 cents per $100 of property tax valuation, would increase to 58 cents by 2007.

“We’re building nearly $40 million worth of schools and putting sewer in the ground,” commissioner Max Walser said. “Tax increases make citizens mad, but someone’s got to pay the piper.

“What do you do? Do you do a tax increase, do you cut services, do you start up user fees, do you do a combination — what?”

The proposed list of capital expenditures includes $2.95 million in renovations and expansions to the North Davidson, Lexington, and Denton branches of the county library system; $443,000 in improvements to four of the county’s parks; $8.91 million in sewer projects; $39.61 million in county school projects; $8.5 million and $13 million in school expansion and renovation money for Thomasville City Schools and Lexington City Schools, respectively; and $6.59 million in landfill improvements.

“I really don’t know about the library requests,” commissioner Billy Joe Kepley said. “It seems like North Davidson just had some big expansion done five or six years ago."

Kepley said at the time the library was expanded, commissioners were told the expansion would be good for 15-20 years.

“Either we did some bad planning then or we’re about to do some now,” he said.

Board consensus was library expansion is not a high priority, as opposed to school construction and the construction of new ambulance bases in Tyro and Denton.

“We really need to prioritize with this year’s budget,” commissioner Priscilla Hege said. “I’d need some justification for all this.”

County department heads were given the opportunity to meet with commissioners and discuss budget needs for upcoming fiscal years.

County recreation director Bill Parnell told commissioners equipment at the county’s parks — Linwood, Southmont, Denton and East Optimist in particular — needed to be replaced.

“Some of it’s 20 years old,” Parnell said. “We are desperate for money to clean these parks up.”

Parnell pointed out aging and rusted slides and swingsets, loose wires on crooked poles, bad roofs over dugouts, broken bleachers, and cracked tennis courts.

“This is a real need,” Walser said. “It’s embarrassing to take a CEO there and try to explain that Davidson County offers great quality of life.

“I’d rather not have parks at all than have some that look like these.”

Proposed landfill improvements include $1.33 million for leachate storage tanks and $3.6 million for the construction of phase two of the landfill’s expansion.

“Roughly $72 million of the $75 million in capital expenditures is either financed or paid out of the county’s General Fund,” Hanner said.

In spite of that figure, the county’s debt will rise to just $79 million from its current $29 million. North Carolina law allows Davidson County to borrow up to $790 million.

“It seems to me like some previous boards have just made financial commitments for future boards to figure out how to pay for,” commissioner Sam Watford said. “I can tell you right now that some of these projects are going to move slower than they are on paper.”

“My hat’s off to you commissioners,” Hanner said at the end of his presentation. “You’ve got some very, very hard decisions to make.”

Staff writer Kristen Johnson can be reached at 472-9500, ext. 232, or at johnson@tvilletimes.com.

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